Dissertation Index

Author: Rockwell, Joti

Title: Drive, Lonesomeness, and the Genre of Bluegrass Music

Institution: University of Chicago

Begun: September 2004

Completed: June 2007


This dissertation suggests how discursive ideas central to a particular genre of American popular music can resonate in recorded sound. My focus is on bluegrass music, where concepts of lonesomeness and drive permeate written histories, performer interviews, fan discussions, pedagogical traditions, and other such modes of discourse for a genre. I propose that these two themes or tropes, along with the vigorously contested idea of bluegrass itself, provide an important means by which the genre is sustained; moreover, they can be heard in the music down to the most subtle sonic detail.

Given the dual nature of this projectan examination of both musical sound and the ideas relating to itmy sources for the dissertation are of two types: 1) studio and live concert recordings taken from the genres roughly sixty-year history, and 2) accounts of bluegrass from those who actively participate in its production and reception (found in articles, interviews, pedagogy, fan discussions, etc.). In order to forge analytic and interpretive connections between the two types, I draw from music theory, popular music scholarship, ethnomusicology, and folklore studies. In doing so, I address questions regarding musical structure, genre ontology, analysis, interpretive listening, and affective and aesthetic expression. Rather than attempt to provide concrete answers to disciplinary questions, though, this project invokes such questions in order to understand a musical genre through the study of the sounds and concepts that shape it.

Keywords: bluegrass, music theory, rhythm, meter, tropes, popular music


Chapter 1: Introduction: Tropes, Bluegrass Music, and Method
Chapter 2: What is Bluegrass Anyway? Categorization, the Genre Debate, and the Boundaries of Bluegrass Music
Chapter 3: Bill Monroe and the Lonesome Song
Chapter 4: Drive, Bluegrass Rhythm, and Banjo Performance
Chapter 5: Studying Popular Music, and the Future of a Genre


Joti Rockwell
Pomona College Department of Music
340 N. College Avenue
Claremont, CA 91711

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